The Day-Date is one of Rolex’s most prestigious watch models. It dates back to the 1950s, and was the first Rolex with the ability to display both the date and weekday in full on its dial. This groundbreaking feature set the Day-Date apart from other luxury watches at the time and helped make it the symbol of elegance and success it is today.
One of the most characteristic features of the Rolex Day-Date is the use of precious metals. To this day, the watch is exclusively offered in gold or platinum. This only strengthens its image as a luxury watch for influential individuals. The Day-Date remains a popular choice among Hollywood stars and world leaders. This lofty reputation, and the fact that several US Presidents chose to wear a Day-Date, has lent the timepiece its nickname: the President’s watch.
In this buyer’s guide, we’re taking a closer look at four of the best-selling Day-Date references on Chrono24.
History of the Rolex Day-Date
Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf started developing the Day-Date collection in the early 1950s. He wanted to create a watch that would appeal to the most influential and powerful individuals among us. Wilsdorf envisioned a luxurious timepiece that wouldn’t only be an accurate timekeeper, but also display the date and weekday in a clear, highly-legible manner. Thus, the Day-Date was born in 1956, and it has been in constant production ever since.
The original model had a 36-mm case, but a 40-mm size was added to the series in 2015. The Day-Date has an unmistakable dial design. The date sits at 3 o’clock, while the day of the week is at 12 o’clock. The President bracelet has become a legend in its own right. It boasts semi-circular three-piece links, adding to the watch’s overall refined appearance.
Over the decades, the Day-Date has received a number of aesthetic and technical updates. The debut of caliber 3055 with a Quickset date in 1978 was one such notable upgrade. In 2000, Rolex introduced the caliber 3155. This movement features a double Quickset function that allows both the date and weekday to be set independently.
The Most Popular Day-Date on Chrono24: The Ref. 18038
The yellow gold Day-Date ref. 18038 is part of the 18000 series that Rolex produced between 1978 and 1988. The variant with a gold dial is exceedingly popular, but those with wooden dials or colorful Stella dials are also sought-after. Rolex used either applied baton indices or Roman numerals for this reference. On some versions, diamonds are also used to mark the hours and/or to decorate the bezel. The selection of watches under this reference is wide-reaching.
The ref. 18038 had a number of other technical upgrades. For instance, in contrast to its predecessor with an acrylic crystal (ref. 1803), watches in the 18000 series were the first to be equipped with a sapphire crystal.
Additional improvements can be found inside the case. Here, the caliber 3055 with a Quickset date is the beating heart, replacing the previous caliber 1556. Moreover, the frequency of the balance wheel was increased to 28,800 vph, up from the former 19,800 vph.
You can purchase a yellow gold ref. 18038 with a gold dial on Chrono24 for just under $16,000. However, that price can quickly climb north of $20,000 depending on the watch’s condition and accessories. The rose gold version with a black dial costs anywhere between $20,500 and $38,000. Rare models like those with a Stella dial are significantly more expensive, with prices rising up to $100,000 and above.
Number 2: The Rolex Day-Date Ref. 1803
The Day-Date ref. 1803 is the direct ancestor of the above-mentioned ref. 18038, and part of the 180 series. These watches were in the Rolex catalog for nearly 20 years, with a production run spanning 1959 and 1978. It replaced the very first Day-Date that had been in production since 1956. This generation was fitted with pie-pan dials. These dials drop slightly at the edge, giving them a nice sense of depth. In the early 1960s, Rolex started using tritium as a luminous material instead of radium. The ref. 1803 was still fitted with an acrylic crystal.
Depending on the production year, the ref. 1803 is powered by either the caliber 1555 (18,000 vph) or the 1556 (19,600 vph). In the early 1970s, Rolex outfitted the latter with a stop-seconds for the first time.
Rolex produced a number of different versions of the Day-Date ref. 1803 during its long production run, including variants with colorful Stella dials, wooden dials, and gold or silver dials with baton indices or Roman numerals. You’ll also find some watches set with precious gemstones on Chrono24.
Prices for this reference are as diverse as the model range itself. For example, a pre-owned ref. 1803 with a yellow gold case and bracelet, gold dial, and Roman numerals costs around $11,500 on Chrono24 (as of June 2023).
Expect prices closer to $25,000 for an unworn model. Pre-owned Day-Dates with a Stella dial cost anywhere between $25,000 and $45,000, depending on the color. Particularly well-maintained or rare variants – for example, those with a wooden dial – can even surpass the $100,000 mark.
Number 3: The Rolex Day-Date Ref. 18238
The ref. 18238 is the third most popular Day-Date on Chrono24. Rolex produced this reference as part of the 18200 series from around 1988 through to the late 1990s. Like the former 18000 references, this Day-Date features a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. While the ref. 18238 looks strikingly similar to the previous version, its improved caliber 3155 is the first to feature a Quickset function for both the date and weekday. The 3155 runs at 28,800 vph and offers a 48-hour power reserve.
As you’d expect, the Day-Date ref. 18238 is available in a number of different dial variants. The version with a gold dial and baton indices is a popular choice and costs some $18,500 pre-owned. In unworn condition, the same watch will set you back more than $23,000. The version with a black dial is significantly more expensive at just shy of $60,000 new. More exotic or well-maintained examples with a Stella or wooden dial are more expensive still.
Number 4: The Rolex Day-Date Ref. 228238
The yellow gold Day-Date 40 (ref. 228238) has been part of the Rolex lineup since 2015, and it remains in production to this day. This reference measures 40 mm across and, as is typical for the model, is available in different dial colors and with baton indices or Roman numerals. You won’t find any funky dial colors here, however; just a green tone in addition to the gold, silver, black, and white options.
The ref. 228238 is also equipped with a new movement, the caliber 3255. It boasts both a blue Parachrom hairspring and Rolex’s Paraflex shock protection system. The balance frequency comes in at 28,800 vph, and the power reserve at 70 hours.
The Day-Date ref. 228238 variants are available for quite wide range of prices. While the official list price is $37,850, market prices tend to be much higher. The most expensive versions have a green dial and cost nearly $65,000. The same watch with a gold dial costs “just” $48,000 (as of June 2023).
Prices and Performance of the Rolex Day-Date
While prices for some Day-Dates (like many luxury watches) have fallen somewhat since 2022, overall performance of the model in the long-term is still positive. As with anything, it all depends on the time of purchase and the buyer’s motivation. If you bought in early 2022, you have probably seen some losses to date. On the other hand, if you haven’t yet bought, now is a relatively affordable time to enter the market.
One extreme example is the ref. 228238 with a green dial. In the summer of 2022, this watch was trading on Chrono24 for over $100,000. Now a year later, it costs around 40% less, despite still selling for some 71% over the MSRP. Depending on when they bought, these developments will bring some buyers anguish, others joy.
Performance of the ref. 18038 with a black dial looks very different. Here, the price has almost continuously risen since 2010, and it’s only fallen slightly since 2022. If you are one of the lucky ones who bought this timepiece in 2010 for just over the $5,000 mark, you can celebrate the fact that the same watch is now demanding just shy of $20,000 in 2023. The situation is similar for the ref. 1803 with a gold dial: from $5,000 in 2010 to nearly $13,000 in mid-2023.
Generally speaking, if you’re on the lookout for a Rolex Day-Date to invest in – or any other luxury watch for that matter – just be sure you’re wary of overheated or speculative market situations.
Who wears a Rolex Day-Date?
As mentioned above, the Rolex Day-Date is one of the most popular luxury watches among music legends, Hollywood stars, and politicians. Former US presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon all wore a Day-Date. Rapper and record producer Jay-Z is another fan of the Day-Date, as were the late musicians Elvis Presley and John Lennon.
You’ll also find a Rolex Day-Date on the wrists of Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford. Numerous world-class athletes have likewise jumped on the Day-Date bandwagon, including England midfielder Jack Grealish and tennis legend Roger Federer.
Rolex Day-Date Ref. 18038 Factsheet
|Production period||Approx. 1978 – 1988|
|Water resistance||100 m (10 bar, 328 ft)|
|Bracelet||President bracelet, yellow gold|
|Dial||Gold sunburst dial|
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